Top 100 Oklahoma Venues

By Berry Tramel
Staff Writer

The Oklahoman today continues a July series celebrating the state’s centennial. Each Sunday in July, we will produce a top-100 list spotlighting the ample sports heritage in the state born in 1907.

The selections were made by columnist Berry Tramel, with help from our sports staff and the state’s premier sports historian, retired Oklahoman sportswriter Ray Soldan.

The greatest sports venue in Oklahoma history? There’s no wrong answer, so long as you pick one of three shrines.

Southern Hills. Owen Field. Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Perry Maxwell’s classic golf course, host of six majors and another on the way in August. OU’s revered football coliseum, a symbol of Oklahoma’s football excellence.

OSU’s rowdy basketball cathedral, which over the years keeps changing its shape but never its electric atmosphere.

A trip to any of the three promises thrills and chills, even if the venues sit silent, awaiting the next scrum. A trip to any of the three evokes memories of heroes past and assurances of future adventures.

You can’t go wrong in any order. Here’s how I rank them:

3. Owen Field.

2. Gallagher-Iba.

1. Southern Hills.

Tough decision. That’s how I went with Gallagher over Owen Field, then Southern Hills over Gallagher.

Remember the topic. Venue.

OU football has more tradition than OSU basketball. More fans make Owen Field their mecca. More big games have been played at Owen Field, though not as many more as you might think, especially when you factor in the big kicker, wrestling.

But absolutely the Sooners’ success has made the venue in Norman. It might be the other way around in Stillwater, where the venue has, at least in part, led to the success. When Gallagher-Iba was a 6,381-seat bandbox, its spirit was legendary. That mood was not lost even when the roof was raised and Gallagher’s capacity was more than doubled.

Owen Field, whose stadium also has been transformed into a 21st-century wonder, with the new east-side upper deck and luxury suites galore, without losing any charm, is a glorious place to watch football.

But Owen Field rarely is mentioned among the must-see stadiums in college football. Rarely listed with Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium or the Rose Bowl or Notre Dame.

Gallagher-Iba Arena is given that status nationally. Regularly ranked right with or just below Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse or Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium as the best gyms in college basketball.

The venue is not the star in Norman that it is in Stillwater.

But the biggest star of all sits in south Tulsa.

John Elway and Lawrence Taylor and Johnny Rodgers and Barry Sanders all played at Owen Field not necessarily because it was a great venue, but because the Sooners were on the schedule. Wilt and Wayman Tisdale and George Mikan and Oscar Robertson played at Gallagher not necessarily because of its shrine status, but because the Cowboys negotiated a schedule.

But Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson and Tiger Woods have made regular stops at Southern Hills only because of its status as a great venue. By definition, that’s how the U.S. Open and the PGA decide on a venue.

If Gallagher was Lloyd Noble North, Bob Kurland and Danny Manning still would have played there. If Owen Field was Lewis Field South, Steve Owens and Gale Sayers still would have played there.

But if Southern Hills was Lincoln West, there would be no Dave Stockton and Ray Floyd winning the PGA there. No Hubert Green and Retief Goosen winning the U.S. Open there.

For almost every sports fan in Oklahoma, Gallagher and Owen Field hold deeper meaning than does Southern Hills. They’ve been to Gallagher or Owen Field or both many, many more times.

But the nature of golf makes its courses wait their turn. Every seven or eight years, Southern Hills rises to the top of Planet Earth’s sports focus as Tiger and Phil and Ernie and a host of contenders shoot for one of the most treasured prizes in athletics.

A golf major. They are there because Southern Hills is a fabulous venue. Our state’s best.

Watch Berry explain the decisions.

Listen to Press Row - The Oklahoman's weekly sports round table - discuss the selection of the venues.

What do you think of The Oklahoman’s Top 100 Oklahoma sports venues?


Southern Hills Country Club

1. Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa, 1936: Classic Perry Maxwell layout has hosted six majors, and five were won by golfers — Dave Stockton, Hubert Green, Ray Floyd, Nick Price and Retief Goosen — who are multiple major winners.

2. Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, 1938: When hoops weren’t raising the roof, wrestling was.

Owen Field

3. Owen Field, Norman: 1923: 12 eventual Heisman Trophy winners and 10 eventual national-title teams have played on Owen Field.

4. State Fair Arena, Oklahoma City, 1965: Home to Pete Maravich’s All-College fireworks, Freckles Brown’s famous ride of Tornado and Bob Foster’s light-heavyweight title defense; now the dream destination of small-town basketball players.

5. Myriad, Oklahoma City, 1972: Glistening downtown arena brought NCAA championships and March Madness to OKC; still going strong with Big 12 women’s tournament.

6. Chandler Baseball Camp, 1958-99: A field of dreams for Oklahoma boys in the ‘60s and ‘70s; three weeks of nothing but baseball.

7. Ford Center, Oklahoma City, 2002: Barely five years old, and already memories to last a lifetime, thanks to Bucknell and Chris Paul.

8. ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, Oklahoma City, 1987: Women’s College World Series home has been well worth original $2-million price tag.

9. Mabee Center, Tulsa, 1972: Host of 18 NCAA Tournament games, most in Oklahoma.

10. Hitch Rodeo Arena, Guymon, 1960s: Bowl-like setting provides unique feel for Pioneer Days Rodeo, one of the top 15 events in the PRCA.

Bricktown Ballpark

11. Bricktown Ballpark, Oklahoma City, 1998: Hasn’t aged a bit. Still pristine after almost a decade.

12. Memorial Marathon start line, Oklahoma City, 2001: Few athletic experiences more emotional than running past the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

13. Lake Texoma, Marshall and Bryan counties,1944: One of only seven inland U.S. reservoirs which have natural reproduction of striped bass.

14. Skelly Stadium, Tulsa, 1930: Home not just to big-time Tulsa U. games in the 1940s, 1960s and 1990s, but the 1983 Tulsa Roughnecks, champions of the North American Soccer League.

15. Oak Tree Golf Club, Edmond, 1976: Oak Tree’s U.S. Amateur winner (Scott Verplank) and Senior PGA winner (Jay Haas) more prominent than its PGA champ (Jeff Sluman).

16. Tulsa Coliseum, 1929-52: Downtown landmark hosted boxer Joe Louis, ice skater Sonja Henie and Tulsa Oilers hockey, but it burned down after a lightning strike.

Little Sahara State Park

17. Little Sahara State Park, Waynoka, 9000 B.C.: The Cimarron River changed course centuries ago, leaving quartz sand dunes that eventually were perfect for all-terrain vehicles, and thousands of riders routinely invade Woods County.

18. Union-Tuttle Stadium, Tulsa, 1976: State’s premier high school football stadium. Seems like a college atmosphere. Video board. Huge marching band. Massive grandstand.

19. Lincoln Park Golf Course, Oklahoma City, 1921: State’s first municipal course and still going strong.

20. Expo Center, Tulsa, xx: Fairgrounds center is transformed into indoor dirt track that attracts the likes of Tony Stewart and Sammy Swindell.

Taft Stadium

21. Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, 1937: Now faded, but once home to bowl games, car races and some of the biggest high school football games in state history.

22. Three Rivers & Honobia Creek Wildlife Management Areas, LeFlore and Pushmataha counties: The state's largest and most popular public hunting areas, especially during deer season.

23. Lindsay Basketball Camp, 1971: In its heyday, Charles Heatly’s hoops camp in the gym that now bears his name drew almost 3,000 girls a summer.

24. Lee Stadium, Tulsa, 1929: Home of early-power Tulsa Central and host of first night game in state history, Sept. 28, 1929.

25. Remington Park, Oklahoma City, 1988: Horse racing’s 1990s slump overshadowed what a fabulous facility the DeBartolos built.

26. Oklahoma Sports Museum, Guthrie, 1996: Quaint storefronts in historic original capital make for an interesting tour.

27. Doenges Memorial Stadium, Bartlesville, 1930: Grand park, old-style overhang, home to 15 seasons of minor-league baseball and 2003 American Legion World Series.

Frederickson Fieldhouse

28. Frederickson Fieldhouse, Oklahoma City, 1958-2005: OCU’s bandbox roared during Abe Lemons’ triple-digit scoring days.

29. Tornado Bowl, Clinton, 1962: Friday Night Lights comes alive, Oklahoma style, in the sunken stadium that houses Football Town’s team.

30. OU Field House, Norman, 1928: You can still feel the ghosts of games past in this wonderfully-cramped old barn, which once hosted basketball and still hosts wrestling and volleyball.

31. Oiler Park, Tulsa, 1934-80: Giant murals and a wooden grandstand marked this long-time home of minor-league baseball. The grandstand collapsed during a 1977 exhibition, hastening the stadium’s demise.

32. Illinois River, Tahlequah: Thousands of Oklahomans raft and canoe down the Illinois each summer.

33. Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, 1975: Has any arena ever been hotter than when Billy Tubbs’ fast-break style was cooking, and the Sooners turned up the heat to wear down foes?

34. Lake Ponca Park, Ponca City, 1962-81: For 20 years, the Ponca City Grand Prix hosted a Sports Car Club of America race that was nothing but fun. For one weekend a year, the tree-lined, two-lane asphalt road that winds through the park became a race track for cars capable of going well over 100 mph.

35. Shadow Mountain Racquet Club, Tulsa, 1976: Jimmy Connors was a regular at Bank of Oklahoma Tennis Classic in the 1980s.

Lazy E Arena

36. Lazy E Arena, Guthrie, 1984: Revolutionary rodeo coliseum, seats 7,300 and cattle can cross underground from one end to the other.

37. Stockyards Coliseum, Oklahoma City, 1921-62: Pro wrestling, ice hockey, boxing, all were staged in Stockyards City. But the premier event was the 1941 national indoor tennis championship, the first ever played outside New York City, and OKC star Don McNeill teamed with Frank Guernsey to beat legends Jack Kramer and Bobby Riggs for the doubles title.

38. Karsten Creek, Stillwater, 1994: Stunning university golf course, already has hosted an NCAA championship.

39. David Allen Memorial Ballpark, Enid, 1999: A mini-Bricktown Ballpark, stunning for high school and Legion; cost $1.3 million.

Boone Pickens Stadium

40. Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, 1914: The old Lewis Field; will be much higher when stadium renovations are complete.

41. J.L. Johnson Stadium, Tulsa, 1978: Oral Roberts’ baseball park was state-of-the-art when built, prompting both OSU and OU to build new stadiums.

42. Hunter-Dwelley Stadium, Jenks, 1929: Big-time school, small-town feel. Fans tail-gate, the band plays just outside the football stadium before the game and, despite seat expansion, people line up 2-3 deep along the fence that is close to the field.

43. Tulsa Country Club, 1908: Host of NCAA women’s tournament and LPGA events, designed by A.W. Tillinghast, who also drew up Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Medinah and Bethpage.

44. Reynolds Center, Tulsa, 1998: University of Tulsa basketball, which drifted from one civic arena to another for almost a century, finally got its own home with this on-campus plum.

45. Gypsum hills, Okeene: Home of the oldest rattlesnake hunt in Oklahoma.

46. Municipal Auditorium, Oklahoma City, 1937: Now strictly an arts hall, it once rang with hoops hysteria. In 1955 alone, Bill Russell and the San Francisco Dons won the All-College Tournament on Municipal’s stage, and Norman’s Denny Price set a big-school state-tournament scoring record of 42 points in a game, since matched only by his son, Mark.

Mark Price Arena

47. Mark Price Arena, Enid, 1930s: Old-fashioned convention hall with balconies, still used for Enid High School hoops.

48. Indian Bowl, Muskogee, 1938: The center of Muskogee’s tradition-rich football program, its central town location draws folks from all around for pregame tailgating and burgers.

49. Lake Eufaula: Oklahoma's best crappie, catfish and smallmouth bass lake.

50. Twin Hills, Oklahoma City, 1920: Charming little course hosted 1935 PGA Championship, won by Johnny Revolta.

51. Reynolds Stadium, Stillwater, 1981: This launching pad for Gary Ward’s big bangers of the 1980s became the hot place for OSU fans to be.

52. Blue Ribbon Downs, Sallisaw, 1963: Quarter horses raced at Blue Ribbon a full 26 years before pari-mutuel betting was allowed.

53. State Fair Speedway, Oklahoma City, 1954: The half-mile course recently went dormant, but for decades the speedway was one of the best dirt tracks in this part of the U.S.

54. Kingston Game Club, 1988-2004: Air-conditioned metal building in Marshall County was nothing special — except a couple dozen times a year its 712 seats were full, hosting cockfight derbies, before a state referendum put it out of business.

55. Tulsa Run’s Riverside Drive, 1978: The long stretch along the Arkansas River highlights the 15K run that in October will celebrate its 30th year in Tulsa.

56. Athletic Park, Muskogee, 1905-54: Home to several minor-league baseball teams in the Western Association, the stadium cozily sat downtown, with a 300-foot left-field line. Many a window in the Dr Pepper building beyond the left-field wall was knocked out by a home run.

57. Duster Dome, Beaver, 1972: A conversation piece since its construction, this round gym with two stories has a playing floor below street level.

58. The Greens Country Club, Oklahoma City, 1972: Forget the golf course. The Greens has supplied big-time tennis, hosting a WTA event in the 1990s. Venus and Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Anna Kournikova all played at the Greens.

59. Gable Field, Tahlequah, 1964: Northeastern State’s 12,000-seat stadium has the highest grandstand you’ll likely find in small-college football.

60. Oklahoma City Athletic Club, 1900s-1944: Early-day boxing gym counted future heavyweight champ Jess Willard as one of its pupils.

61. UMAC Center, Tulsa, 2003: Tulsa Union’s 5,600-seat gym is regular host of NCAA’s Mid-Continent Conference Tournament.

62. Cedar Ridge Golf Club, Broken Arrow, 1967: Hosted 1983 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Jan Stephenson, and LPGA tour event since 2004, won twice by Annika Sorenstam.

Lower Mountain Fork River

63. Lower Mountain Fork River, McCurtain County: The closest thing in Oklahoma to a Rocky Mountain trout stream.

64. S.E. Williams Stadium, Tulsa, 1972: The Booker T. Washington band and legendary PA announcer Night Train Lane provide quite the atmosphere.

65. Broad Acres Polo Club, Norman, 1955: Polo? On the Oklahoma plains? Believe it.

66. Boulevard Bowl, Edmond, 1978: Hosted a Pro Bowlers Tour stop from 1986-94, including the 1989 U.S. Open, won by Mike Aulby.

67. Miami Civic Center, 1958: Headquarters of the NEO basketball tournament, which bills itself as the world’s largest tournament and bills this venue as the “Madison Square Garden of the West.”

68. Golf Club of Oklahoma, Broken Arrow, 1984: Tom Lehman finished second in a 1991 minor-league event and recommended the course as a site for the PGA Tour Championship.

69. Broken Bow Memorial Stadium, 1936: “Over the Mountain” is the nickname for this picturesque high school football field, surrounded by the Ouachitas, built as a WPA project.

State Penitentiary Rodeo Arena

70. State Penitentiary Rodeo Arena, McAlester, 1940: Ever been inside a maximum-security prison? This one-of-a-kind event gives fans that chance without having to spend the night.

71. John Divine Hall, Perry, 1957: Wrestling fervor still lives in this fieldhouse of champions.

72. Oklahoma City Tennis & Swim Club, 1918-1950s: As a teenager, Don McNeill worked as a ballboy at the club, then grew up to be U.S. Open champion.

73. Hallett Speedway, Jennings, 1976: Strange but true — a 1.8-mile, 10-turn track built specifically for road racing, in rural Oklahoma.

74. Haskell Park, Norman, 1930s-81: Sitting in the shadow of the football stadium, OU baseball won titles at this field marked by a picket outfield fence.

75. Case Tennis Center, Tulsa, 2000: University of Tulsa already has hosted NCAA Championships at this pristine facility.

76. ConocoPhillips Aquatics Center, Bartlesville, 1970: Now mainly a recreational facility, but Greg Louganis is among the winners of the U.S. Diving Championships held on the Phillips 66 headquarters.

77. Geary High School gym, 1980: Built to accommodate one event, the Geary Wrestling Tournament, which started in 1944 and defines this western Oklahoma hamlet.

78. Tulsa Convention Center, 1963: Nothing fancy, but home to Oilers hockey, Talons indoor football and, for much of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Tulsa U. basketball.

79. Midwest Trophy, Del City, 1971: The showroom for this bustling manufacturer isn’t a museum — but it ought to be. Midwest Trophy produces the hardware for the majority of America’s sports championships, including the BCS.

Bomber Bowl

80. Bomber Bowl, Frederick, 1909: Originally the old fairgrounds, then built up as a WPA project, football rocked in this southwestern corner of Oklahoma.

81. Tulsa Central Boys Gym, 1951-52: A true bandbox, with a wall running along one sideline so that inbounds passers actually stood inbounds. Billy Tubbs played there in 1952.

82. Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center, Shawnee, 1981: Once the home of the National High School Finals Rodeo, worked so well Shawnee created the International Youth Rodeo, with attendance and competitors burgeoning.

Drillers Stadium

83. Drillers Stadium, Tulsa, 1981: Seats 10,997, the largest Double-A baseball park in America.

84. Eagles Nest, Oklahoma City, 1970: Cramped quarters and a zest for hoops makes Oklahoma Christian University the best small-college atmosphere in the state.

85. Marita Hynes Field, Norman, 1998: The compactness of softball translates to this glittering little jewel.

86. Holland Field, Oklahoma City, 1924-58: Home of OKC minor-league teams and veterans of the knot-hole gang, young boys who would try to sneak in or peer in to catch a glimpse of baseball magic.

87. Jelsma Stadium, Guthrie, 1936: A throwback, with a sandstone wall, the old Rock Island Depot and WPA architecture gracing a Friday night football game.

Grand Lake

88. Grand Lake, Jay & Grove: Phenomenal lake for bass fishing, snagging spoonbills and duck hunting.

89. Capitol Hill Dome, Oklahoma City, 1953: Revolutionary in design when it opened, with all seats elevated at least 10 feet above the playing surface, the gym hosted tons of state tournament games plus OCU’s 1957 NCAA Tournament win over Loyola.

90. Father Hamill Field, Tulsa, 1927: Cascia Hall’s elegant setting for football is reminiscent of the Ivy League.

91. Glover River, McCurtain County: Best in state for whitewater rafting; 32.6 miles of scenic beauty and some challenging rapids and falls.

92. Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club, Nichols Hills, 1920: Another Perry Maxwell design, this one has hosted a batch of top-flight amateur events, including the 1959 U.S. Amateur, won by Gene Littler.

93. Freedom Rodeo Grounds, Freedom, 1938: Old times here are not forgotten during the Freedom Open Rodeo, a three-day festival of amateur cowboys, post-rodeo dances and country music that has been staged for almost 70 years. The Old West setting of Freedom’s Main Street fits in quite nicely.

Mat Hoffman Action Sports Park

94. Mat Hoffman Action Sports Park, Oklahoma City, 2005: Welcome to the 21st century. Hoffman, a 10-time world champion in BMX freestyle bicycling, helped design this park that caters to trick cyclists.

95. Wichita Mountains Wildlife National Refuge, Lawton: Great place to hike, climb, fish or watch the elk, longhorn cattle and buffalo.

96. Jenks Simmons Fieldhouse, El Reno, 1954: Built as Thunderbird Coliseum, hosted Bradley’s 1955 NCAA Tournament victory over OCU and since is home to El Reno’s wrestling frenzy.

97. Dornick Hills Golf & Country Club, Ardmore, 1913: Another Perry Maxwell design, Dornick Hills was the first Oklahoma course affiliated with the U.S. Golf Association, in 1914. Dornick hosted the Ardmore Open, a PGA Tour event, in 1952-54.

98. All Sports Stadium, Oklahoma City, 1962-97: Nondescript ballpark but brought Triple-A baseball back to OKC and the Big Eight Tournament to town permanently in 1976.

99. Black Kettle National Grasslands, Cheyenne: Quail hunters across the country flock there when bird numbers are good.

Thunder Valley Raceway

100. Thunder Valley Raceway, Noble, 1991: Professional dragsters race here, but so do amateurs, making open night a scene out of American Graffiti.